Young Women Aim High in WPI's Camp Reach

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass.- They may not be able to solve all the world's problems, but the 30 young women who'll be attending Camp REACH, WPI's residential engineering and technology summer program from July 27 through Aug. 9 have some great ideas for making life easier and healthier for their own and future generations.

"We have to protect our environment and community," says Erin Dalianis of Worcester's Clark Street School. "Do you want your grandchildren to live in a world that's polluted? Because that's where we're heading." "The incorporation of the physically disabled into the workforce, the general community, or vacation activities is one of the problems facing society," says Antonia Vitalo of Holden, Mass., a student at St. Peter's Central Catholic School in Worcester. Antonia suggests making a device using vibrations from sound waves to help the hearing impaired, developing a device that would beep if a blind person were too close to an object, and providing people with speech problems with computers that would translate what they want to say.

Camp REACH is funded by a $73,165 grant from the National Science Foundation and administered by WPI's Minority Affairs and Outreach Programs office, directed by Blanche Pringle. All of the campers will enter seventh grade in Worcester County schools in September. In addition to teaching them about engineering, the program has been designed to develop self-esteem and self-confidence in mathematics and science. It will stress that engineering is a collaborative, problem-solving process that is used everyday to help people. "Campers will spend much of their time on design projects for customers in the Worcester community," says Denise Nicoletti, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, who is coordinating the program with Chrysanthe Demetry, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. One team will be designing an information resource area and a library-borrowing process for parents of premature infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Memorial Hospital. Another will be working with the Edward Street Day Care Center on a project that will involve the complete redesign of a supplies and recycling storage room to make it easier for teachers to use. The third group will design a much-needed toy and book storage area for the Pediatrics Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

Nicoletti and Demetry are superb role models for these 12-year-olds. Nicoletti earned her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree in electrical engineering at Drexel University; Demetry, WPI's Norton Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, received her B.S. in mechanical engineering from WPI and earned a Ph.D. in materials science at MIT.

The two-week program is chock full of hands-on Discovery Workshops, field trips, opportunities to learn about on-campus facilities such as the Biomedical Engineering Laboratory and the wind tunnel, and just-for-fun activities like a scavenger hunt (outdoors and on the World Wide Web), field games and an ice cream social. In "'Round, Round, Get Around, I Get Around" the campers will explore how mechanical, rehabilitation and architectural engineering may be used to accommodate the needs of individuals with physical disabilities. Working with three students visiting from the Massachusetts Hospital School: two with cerebral palsy and one with arthrogryposis (a congenital defect of the limbs), they will conduct an accessibility survey of the WPI campus-taking measurements of ramp slopes, door widths and closing times, and evaluating door-opening forces to see if all of these comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations. The workshop will be led by Holly Ault, associate professor of mechanical engineering, who is currently a research associate at Children's Hospital at the University of Delaware, and Allen Hoffman, WPI's John Woodman Higgins Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

Daniel Gibson, an assistant professor of biology and biotechnology who is also a prize-winning sandcastle builder, will lead a weekend workshop at Wood Neck Beach in Falmouth, Mass., that looks at the building dynamics and material properties of sand. The campers will build towers and walls and learn to buttress and crenelate in "Sandcastles as an Engineering Experience."

Brigitte Servatius, associate professor of mathematical sciences, will lead a workshop on the bracing of grids that will incorporate civil engineering and other areas to answer such questions as "What makes the Statue of Liberty's dress withstand the sea breeze?"

WPI seniors. Kimberlee Mix, a biotechnology major from Fort Edward, N.Y., and Kerri O'Connor, a chemical engineering major from Worcester, Mass., will work with the campers in a workshop titled "Who Dun It?" The girls will use modern forensic science techniques including gas chromatography, infrared spectroscopy, ink analysis, fingerprinting and DNA modeling to solve the mystery of who stole an emerald necklace.

Field trips are scheduled to the Bose company in Framingham, Mass., the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, where participants will learn about the logistics of the Life Flight helicopter, and to the Worcester Water Filtration Facility.

A study completed for the grant proposal concluded that "girls generally are not advised to pursue engineering careers by their parents, guidance counselors or teachers....the best way to stem the tide is to expose them to the excitement of engineering and technology in a supportive atmosphere of achievement." For these 30 adventurous young women, Camp REACH is the place to begin experiencing that excitement and to focus on what they and technology can do to make the world a better place for everyone.